“The rebranding event is going really well.”
I don’t think I’ll ever grow bored of the way Erisa Nabil murmurs every sentence. She curls up like a cat next to me, her legs crossed as she settles into the booth, her long fingers wrapped around the neck of an expensive bottle of vodka she has definitely not been sharing with the regular guests. She’s celebrating.
“We still have to make it to midnight,” I tease, her good mood already pushing away the nervous edge that has clung to me all night.
I don’t move away when she presses closer to me, our shoulders touch as she lets her head rest on the back of the tall seat. Under the table, our thighs brush, neither of us dressed in anything that covers us. Just my bare skin against hers.
I barely manage to blow out a stuttering breath. This. It’s… electric.
I mentioned it to Ashby once in the first few months here in Las Vegas. He told me it was normal. Erisa has had plenty of lifetimes to create her perfectly brittle exterior. She knows how to lure her prey in by seeming demure and wanton. It’s a piece of ancient magic very alive in her amber eyes.
It happens to everyone.
Except, I don’t think she treats me like anyone else. There’s a purr to her words that vanishes when shouting commands to our staff. She chooses her words carefully when she speaks to me. Any other time, she’s lightning fast wit that could give whiplash to our drunk and handsy regulars.
This, I think, is something else.
I’m supposed to be going back to the hotel to give Ashby his midnight kiss for the new year, but I’ve come up with a thousand excuses over the last fifteen minutes to linger here. I can still make it if I leave in the next five minutes. I can just hail down a cab and hop on over to the street and meet him outside where I know he’s probably already pacing.
I wanted to see her before I stepped out, though. See her smile. See her shimmer in the glow of success. Erisa Nabil was supposed to be a queen in her past life. I like her very much as a business owner, though.
“Even if everyone left now instead of waiting the next ten minutes, we would be up in profits for the entire year. We’ve done as much tonight as I usually do in a month.” Her eyes are open as she looks down at me, a hidden message sitting there behind her pupils just out of my reach. “You made this happen, Lucy Lore.”
She tips her slender neck back and drinks straight from the bottle before shoving it in my direction. I shouldn’t. My head is already fuzzy and I have to make it back to the hotel. At least, I think I tell her that I shouldn’t. Before I know it, however, the hot liquid is burning the back of my throat while the lingering flavor of her dragon fruit lip gloss clings to my tongue.
The bottle ends up on the table. Her fingers are cradling my face. I think she asks me a question.
I don’t know what it is, just that my answer is yes. If she’s asking, the answer will always be yes.
Leaning forward, Erisa presses her mouth to mine. She’s all demand. Her fangs pull at my bottom lip, not enough to break the skin, but hard enough to remind me that she’s more than capable of tearing me apart piece by delicate piece.
I think I would like it.
I’m not thinking.
Shaking my head, I struggle out of her grasp. “I have to go.”
Her fingers form a gentle circle around my wrist. There’s a request written across her vulnerable expression. I just shake my head.
This is getting out of hand. I have other promises to uphold. I’ll see her next time we work.
No words pass my lips, but she lets me go. I hope she understands. I need her to understand. My heart is spoken for already and I won’t be the one to teach Ashby Carter about infidelity.
We have a good relationship. Me and Ris. We work well together. I love my job and our time together, but I can’t offer her much else. No matter how much I want to turn around and ask her to kiss me again.
A small voice in the back of my mind tries to reason that Ashby would understand. Syrens and vampires have always been bound together. Somehow my bloodline was always meant to find that of a Nabil, a creature old enough that it predates the science that created Ashby and his brothers.
The rest of my liquored brain is blaring an alarm to get out now and I listen to it, staggering out on my heels against the flux of hot bodies and confetti poppers people are setting off early for the occasion. Swiveling lights meant for the disco balls near the ceiling pierce my eyes as I make my way to the door. Out. I need to get out and everyone is in the way. My success is now my downfall as I grumble apologies to the three hundred excited participants of our little rebranding event and shove towards the exit.
Finally. I suck in a huge gulp of air as I pass the door.
And then realize that I didn’t grab my purse or my coat.
Rain splashes onto the sidewalk. I linger in the overhand of the building and stare at it. Water has never bothered me before. I used to live by the ocean and swim in its frozen waves.
I can handle a brisk walk in the rain.
I have to because there’s no way I’m heading back into that club and chancing another intimate moment with Erisa. I don’t have my phone, so I can’t call Ashby. I don’t have my wallet, so there’s no way to pay a cab. My feet work fine, though.
I can do this. I can do this. I’m pretty sure I can do this.
It’s only two blocks to the hotel.
I make it out from under the awning. The rain finds me immediately, reveling in the low cut dress that leaves my chest and most of my back open for its icy touch. Three steps into my journey and I already have my arms crossed in front of myself to ward off the cold as my jaw clenches in an attempt to stop my teeth from chattering.
This is a bad idea. I’m not going to go back, though.
Head down, I trudge along the sidewalk. A car zooms by on my right. I barely see the wave of water it splashes my way before it dunks me from head to toe.
Hot tears leak from my eyes as I pull the drenched scrunchie out of my leaking hair and brush it back from my face. It’s not even supposed to rain this much in the desert. This has to be karma. It’s what I deserve for getting carried away on the magic of Erisa Nabil.
I glance up in time to see Ashby jog across the street. He has his jacket off by the time he gets to me, throwing it over my shoulders before I can protest or tell him that I’m not worth his chivalrous behavior. He’s such a good guy and I…
I don’t know what I am.
My heart is too big. I have too many emotions. I think, given the chance in another lifetime, I could definitely love Erisa just as much as I do Ashby.
Which, if I believe the common media, makes me a whore. A cheater. A bad woman.
Ashby has me wrapped in his coat and whisked off to the hotel room in no time, his dark magic sweeping us off of the wet streets. The constant pelting of fat rain drops is replaced with numbing nothingness. It’s quiet in the room. Candles line the windowsill and rose petals cover the bedspread.
Ashby Carter is too good for me.
I’m sobbing before he has a chance to ask me what’s wrong. Too cold, too overwhelmed, I can’t feel my legs. Somehow I end up on the ground. Ashby follows, crouching next to me with a towel to dry the water from my face.
“Hey, it’s okay. Ris called. I’m not upset.”
He has to repeat himself four or five times before any of his words actually penetrate the grief building a fortress around my mind. “She told you we kissed?”
He offers a lopsided grin as I clap a hand over my traitorous lips. “She forgets her manners when she’s happy. It’s okay. You can’t guess how many times she’s kissed me or one of my brothers.”
A hiccup bubbles out from me as I try to swallow my heavy breaths and calm down. He knows. Ashby knows and he’s not mad.
Somewhere down the hall, there’s cheers from other guests. It must be midnight. Ashby glances to my lips.
“What’s your wish for the new year, Lady Lore?”
“To be enough for you,” I whisper immediately.
He shakes his head. “You are. You always will be. Promise to always come back to me?”
Forgetting my wet clothes and misery, I throw my arms around his neck as I crawl into his lap. “Of course I promise.”
He doesn’t complain about my cold body as he presses a kiss to my head. “I promise, too. Always, Lucy Lore. No matter what happens in the next year or the next ten or the next fifty if you’ll give me all that time, I will always be here and I will always love you.”
“I love you.”
My words are eclipsed by his lips. We kiss. He’s a decadent chocolate meant to be unwrapped slowly before thoroughly enjoyed. He’s the warmth of a fire when I just stumbled in from a hurricane. He’s warm and safe and mine.
He doesn’t fill me with electricity like Erisa. And that’s okay.
I think that everything will be okay. As long as we’re together and honest and true to ourselves.
The new year rings in. We’re together on the floor and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy New Year to all of my favorite readers! It has been a whirlwind six months for me, going from keeping every snippet of my writing saved in a drawer in my desk to putting a little bit of different characters onto this blog to publishing whole chapters on Lore. Every view and comment and congratulations in person has made me feel validated and loved and pushed forward on this reckless attempt to be a “real” writer.
I am nervous and excited to start this new year. Nervous that this was all a fluke and I’ll suddenly fail. Excited that maybe I won’t and that I have no real idea of what success is going to look like in the coming months. I have plans to start more published series on kindle vella as well as working out a schedule to post more frequently here. No matter where the next year takes me in my writing journey, it started here at the gentle suggestion from Bridgette to actually show people my writing. I will always be grateful for that push and for the feedback I got in these first months.
You, readers, are the reason I haven’t given up. Thank you for coming back week after week.
If you enjoyed this story, please leave a like and a comment in the section down below. If you want more of Lucy and Ashby and Erisa, be sure to check out Lore on kindle vella: Lore by Angelica Reece
As always, please take an extra minute to read Bridgette’s amazing story and follow her page to see where the new year takes her as well!
I’ll see you in the new year. 🙂